New York, NY – After two-and-a half-years of negotiations, Rite Aid workers have finally won a strong contract. The
workers, represented by 1199SEIU, include pharmacists, pharmacy techs, interns and cashiers throughout New York City, the Hudson Valley, Long Island and New Jersey.Over 2,500 of the workers had been working without a contract since August of 2016. Rite Aid owed millions to the 1199 National Benefit Fund, wanted to exclude new hire pharmacists from the bargaining unit, and would not secure retirement benefits. The new contract, which runs through 2019, will preserve no-cost health insurance for workers and their families, as well as annual raises of 2% in 2017 and 2018, and the pension plan.
“Rite Aid wanted to take all our staff pharmacists out of the union,” said Laurie Vallone, executive vice-president of 1199 SEIU. “We said that was not on the table. We won that through legal battles. We also retained our pension funds, our childcare funds, and our training and upgrading funds, whereby our members can access funds for education in order to advance in a career, such as when a cashier studies to become a physician’s assistant or nurse, they can be financed. They will also get no-cost health care through Rite Aid, so they will have no out-of-pocket costs.”
Another win, Vallone says, is language in the new contract. “We have language now where we keep our bargaining unit intact. Also, we have notice of discharge and suspension, where if either of these happen, Rite Aid is required to notify us so we can take action. We’ve had a relationship with Rite Aid for at least 50 years and we’ve never been able to get that language.”
“I applaud the Rite Aid members of 1199, who stood on the frontlines and endured many setbacks to ensure that pharmacy jobs in our costly city remain good, middle-class ones,” said George Gresham, president of 1199SEIU. “They fought in the tradition of our union, a tradition that harkens back to the pharmacists in the 1930s who fought for living wages and justice in the groundbreaking organizing effort which formed our Union. They showed us that when we stand together, working people can win against a powerful corporation.”
Dalia Lugo, a Pharmacy Technician in Manhattan who has worked at Rite Aid for 29 years, is happy about the contract, with some reservations. “I’ll accept the contract now, primarily because our pension fund is safe. But I wish the new health care we’ll receive, through Rite Aid, was as good as the National Benefit Fund we had before. Now, we will have some costs associated with dental and vision care, because of co-payments we hadn’t had to pay previously. But the current childcare fund, which I took advantage of, is still in place. It was excellent, it was preserved, and I recommend it. Also, we still have the trading and upgrade funds, which I also used for classes in the past that took me from my initial job as a cashier to my current position as a Pharmacy Technician. That was great. I love my job, and take great pride in it. We should continue, and see if, in 2019, we can negotiate an even better contract.”
Another important factor is the impending sale of thousands of Rite Aid stores to Walgreens; the contract requires Walgreens follow the terms of the new contract until the workers at the stores that are sold negotiate a new contract with them.
“Right now we are in the middle of ratification of the contract, voting store by store. The ratification should be announced in about three weeks,” Vallone said.